Choose to Make Lemonade: Remote Interviewing Tips from a Hiring Manager

Meghan Peterson | June 12, 2020

"Her skills were apparent enough to get my attention and invite her back" quote

Over the past few weeks, major employers across the nation have announced that they’ll be closing their doors through at least 2021. And it’s only June.

At first, this market shift scared me – what does that mean for the economy? How will we be impacted and what can I do to prepare? After digesting the news though, I saw these proactive announcements for what they really were – opportunities. In the wake of these shutdowns, I’ve been able to swoop up some serious rock stars, hiring several amazing candidates – without ever having met them in person. In fact, my hiring process was 100% remote.

My recent hiring experience was interesting – it taught me quite a bit about myself and the future of hiring. As we continue to embrace this new landscape, hiring managers will face new challenges and likely have to adapt their current processes from top to bottom. Basically, life is handing out some unfamiliar lemons, and it’s time that we start making modern-day lemonade. Here’s how you can do that if you’re a hiring manager right now.

Check bias at the door

No candidate is perfect. When I found “Amy”, a Customer Success Manager with over a decade of experience, my eye was quickly drawn to the year-long gap on her resume spanning from March 2015 through April 2016. Despite some apprehension, I pursued her, curious to know how that gap on paper translated into real life. I quickly found that Amy had taken that time off to care for a sick family member. Not only did that ease my initial concerns, it helped to deepen my understanding of her priorities and her character.

A 2019 study found that applicants who provided a reason for their work gap, like Amy, received close to 60% more interviews than their counterparts who chose not to. This is simply an example of one type of hiring bias that can easily be eliminated by a quick conversation. Give candidates the opportunity to be candid and share their story instead of missing out on a potential rock star.

Pursue potential

Amy disclosed the purpose of her resume gap during our initial phone screen and it was probably my biggest takeaway from our conversation. She asked thoughtful questions and shared several intuitive insights, but I didn’t get a complete feel for her personality.

As I weighed whether or not to move forward, it dawned on me that getting a great feel for someone based off of one remote “meeting” didn’t seem like enough. Her research, transparency, and skill set were apparent – at least apparent enough to get my attention and invite her back for another conversation.

Up your question game

Since we won’t be sitting down face-to-face with candidates for the foreseeable future, the questions we ask must be better than ever before. I updated my interview guide to add more insightful, open-ended, and personalized questions. This improved my conversations and made the best use of my limited time with all  candidates, including Amy. These targeted questions and approaches included:

  • Do you take regular breaks to stay focused and productive? What does a healthy work/life balance look like for you? Working from home has many benefits, but it can be tough to transition from work-life to personal-life. 22% of remote workers find it difficult to unplug after work and, since it’s not looking like we’ll be headed back to the office soon, it’s critical that candidates already  have, or are able to develop, this balance.
  • Do you have a designated work area at home? Even if only a small space, an “office” set-up specifically for work can make a world of difference in focus and productivity.
  • Make jokes and watch their response. Remote work can be isolating, and communicating takes a concerted effort, especially during the onboarding process. You should be confident that the candidate’s tone or intent won’t be misinterpreted via email or Zoom. While a sense of humor isn’t the be-all end-all, it does help unite a team (and keep everyone sane) during times of high stress.
  • Discuss past remote work experience and check relevant references. Pay close attention to their history of working remotely and request references from those experiences. This additional insight into the candidate’s habits is valuable to understand how they’ll operate in the long-term.

It’s time to make modern-day lemonade

With each new challenge that hiring remotely poses, we have an opportunity to be innovative as hiring managers. Keep an open mind – think both critically and creatively – and as the pool of talented prospects continues to deepen, we can all fill our open positions with these stand-out candidates. The candidates I’ve hired over the last 60 days and I have both been lucky enough to find a way to make modern-day lemonade out of the unique lemons life is handing us at the moment. Now it’s your turn!

About The Author

Meghan Peterson is the Director of Customer Success at interviewstream. She combines her experience in sales, recruiting, and tech to support customers of all sizes in her role. If you’d like to pick her brain about her advice here or simply start a conversation, feel free to give Meg a shout at mpeterson@interviewstream.com.

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